TV adventurer Aldo Kane has clocked world-first expeditions, like first ascents of Venezuelan Tepuis, rowing across the Atlantic from Europe to South America, and the first attempt to paddle the Baliem River in West Papua, but you won’t have seen him in front of the cameras – yet. That’s because he is the master of Behind The Scenes, with responsibility for the entire crew’s safety and security. He’s worked with everyone from Hollywood A-listers Tom Hardy and Henry ‘Superman’ Cavill, to BBC adventurer and dangerous animal expert Steve Backshall. After all, if there’s one person you want to have your back in a war zone, surrounded by venomous critters and natural death traps, then it’s a former Royal Marines Commando Sniper.
RISING You’ve worked in some extreme BTS TV looking after presenters and actors – is there a part of your Commando training that you use every day?
ALDO KANE ‘Yes. The Royal Marines teach you Commando Spirit, part of which is Cheerfulness In Adversity. I was in a volcano in Democratic Republic of Congo for three weeks, breathing in so much dust and glass, basically, and all my fingers were infected. It was just a horrible place to live and it was erupting while we were inside it. And you just have to be kind of happy with the situation. And there’s the buddy system. You have to look after your buddy first and then your team, and then yourself – if everyone’s doing that it means you’re getting looked after as well. You can’t watch your own back. I’ll know what my calorie intake is or, how much water I need to drink, but they are not used to it. Before you know it they’ll go down with heatstroke or whatever.’
RISING What’s the biggest challenge when keeping the crew safe?
AK ‘My job is to technically make sure everyone’s safe and that could be anything from expedition preparation, logistics, building camp, medical stuff, right the way through to drilling the boats, tying the ropes and abseiling down a cliff in a cave. The crews that we go to these locations with are pretty switched on – the biggest problem is when they start to film, all of them get channelled into what’s behind the camera. You’re on top of Angel Falls – the highest waterfall in the world at 1000m – and you’ve got a camera guy and a director both looking through the screen, neither of them are watching the edge. If they don’t have people looking after them they walk off a cliff, or they fall, or they get washed away in a river.’
RISING What’s it like working with Steve Backshall, the TV Presenter of Deadly 60?
AK ‘Steve Backshall is a super-confident bloke – this guy can climb fairly hard, he can paddle fairly hard, he’s been in some horrible cave systems around the world. So it’s a pleasure to work with him but most sane people go away on a trip or expedition and they don’t go looking for things that sting, and are venomous. But when you work with Steve, you go out every night with a torch picking up stones, moving logs and you’re looking for snakes, spiders, scorpions; you definitely find them!’
RISING Have you ever been bitten?
AK When I climbed the Venezuelan Tepui [flat-topped jungle mountain] with Steve, the hard part of being on that ledge on the wall [in a lightning storm] is that you’re sharing these places with venomous insects and animals – scorpions, snakes. Both Steve and I got stung by bullet ants. They call it a bullet ant because it’s like being shot. Steve had just done a bit to camera and the ant was sitting there on his hand. I was laughing at him, behind camera, and my shirt was hanging on a branch. I reached for it without checking it, just put it straight on and did the buttons up, and another ant stung me three times in my left chest, and it was literally like being shot. They call it ‘The Ventiquattro’ 24-hour ant because it hurts for that long. It’s one of the most excruciating pains I’ve ever had.’
‘If you fire a stuntman through a wall then that's a huge problem’
RISING Didn’t you once get Tom Hardy to jump through the ice in Siberia?
AK ‘Four years ago we did a programme for Discovery called Driven to Extremes taking a car and driving across extreme environments: the coldest road in the world, the hottest and the wettest. With Tom we did icebreaking drills at -54 Celsius. So I cut out a section of ice – I have to test it all, it’s my job – and then jump in it at night, basically in your pants and jumping out. Tom and F1 driver Mika Salo both loved it! I think they like being taken out of their comfort zone. I was lucky enough to do one trip with Henry Cavill, one with Tom Hardy, and one with Adrien Brody – two weeks in the same car driving across these extreme environments. You really do get to know them and you see them change, and relax even though it’s an extreme environment – they feel much more at home for some reason.’
RISING What about your work on the Avengers?
AK ‘I work doing stunt rigging on Avengers and In the Heart of the Sea. For example, you have Thor who jumps with his hammer down the entire length of the boat in Age of Ultron – we would rig up all of the pulley systems, all of the ropes and the air rams. Every time you see someone fall, fly or jump it’s a series of thin cords and pulleys, either hand-balling and pulling them, or technical rams. It’s a lot of responsibility – if you fire a stuntman through or into a wall then that’s a huge problem.’
RISING You’ve clocked some world-firsts away from the TV screens too?
AK ‘I rowed across the Atlantic with Team Essence – five of us. We found out no-one had ever rowed from mainland Europe to mainland South America. We were like: “I wonder why no-one's done that?” We found out straight away why. It’s about 4500 miles, the longest distance across the Atlantic and there’s so many different weather systems off that north coast of Africa, it’s really messy. We got capsized at night in 30ft waves, all of us out of the boat.’
RISING Were you at least leashed to the boat?
AK ‘You're lanyarded on – one of the guys wasn’t tied on so we nearly lost him – but it’s horrendous. We rolled and then flipped and we were underneath the boat for about 40 seconds getting hammered from above, in the dark so you can’t see anything. You just hear the roar of these massive waves and we’re in the middle of nowhere with one of the cabins filled with water. To get five of us on the boat we binned the life raft and all of our safety kit to fit food into it.’
RISING If the boat sunk you would have been…
AK ‘Yeah, we would have been shark food. It was calculated, but it was still risky. The long story cut short is that we set off from Portugal and landed in Venezuela but we capsized three times, and halfway across the closest person to us was Tim Peake who tweeted us from the International Space Station. That’s when we felt the most alone, when the closest person to us was, you know, an astronaut.’
RISING How many hours of rowing did you do per day?
AK ‘You're basically doing two hours on, two hours off, two hours on, two hours off. Non-stop, all day, all night, for nearly two months.’
RISING What does that do to your mindset?
AK ‘It makes you incredibly mindful because there is no point. There is no future. There is no past. There’s just the seconds of suffering that you're going through. Every bone – your arse – everything is shredded. You’re literally just grimacing through it. You maybe only sleep for four hours a day, but they’re through the night. The rest of the time you’re just baking in your cabin. It’s a classic example of By Endurance We Conquer.’
RISING What did you do when you got to the beach in Venezuela?
AK ‘We landed in Venezuela under the cover of darkness. We didn’t have visas or permission to be there, so we sneaked onto a beach, took the Sat and GPS recordings, then rowed back out 12 miles. We got picked up by the Venezuelan Coast Guard in one of the most dangerous stretches of water with pirates and everything. That was 50 days, ten hours.’
‘We felt the most alone when the closest person to us was an astronaut’
RISING How do you look at challenges now, having achieved that?
AK ‘It very much makes you think that you can pretty much do anything as long as you are dogmatic about it and you just get your head down. It’s actually proof that just getting on with something, taking that first step is always the hardest and actually after that it’s just momentum, and you just keep going, keep going.’
RISING What’s the most extreme environment you’ve had to work in?
AK ‘Last year for Discovery Channel I set up a camp in a jungle in South America, on and inside an erupting volcano with a huge pyroclastic flow coming down, and I had 30 crew that I was looking after. People are using machetes every day and flying in and out on helicopters while there's lava bombs landing within 100 metres of the camp. With extreme environments there are only five or six on the planet: jungle, desert, arctic, the mountains and marine. I’ve always said if you can operate effectively in a jungle and not become sick, ill or broken, then you can operate anywhere in the world because your admin needs to be so good. You need to be cleaning yourself, looking after yourself, drinking water, eating the correct food, watching where you put your hands; every cut gets infected.’
RISING Do you have to make your own luck in those scenarios?
AK ‘Yeah, I guess it’s all perceived risk, and risk. You do as much as you can to mitigate those risks and then the rest of it you decide between you whether that’s too much risk, or too little risk, or if it’s acceptable. If a lava bomb hits you on the head you’re dead, but you would try and do everything you can to be away from it. It’s a bit of both. You’re mitigating as much as possible and then it’s in the hands of the gods.’
WHAT NEXT? Aldo Kane’s experience shows that a successful expedition is in the planning and you can start that any time. So put a pin in a map of somewhere you’d like to visit for more than just a holiday, and then work back from there. When should you travel, what kit do you need? What are the risks?